Growing up in the 1950s and 60s in South Africa, I was used to seeing dogs accompanying their "families" everywhere. On the beach, on walks, in parks and on picnics. When I first moved to the UK in the 1980s, dogs were still popular, but one did notice an increasing number of restrictions being imposed. Partly this seemed to stem from hysteria over "dangerous dogs" who attacked or bit people and other dogs, but then there was a new assault - "fouling" - in which a number of "studies" found "dangerous infective agents" in dog faeces and campaigners began to run with the scare that contact could cause serious health risks for children. Then the allergy campaigners got into the act.
Now it seems that wherever one goes, if you have a dog with you, you are persona non grata. In part the over reaction is due to the legislators, councils and enforcement agencies always looking for the cheapest solution to a problem. Thus responsible pet owners who clean up after their dogs, take good care of them with regular health and parasite checks and so on, are treated as irresponsible, and banned from all manner of places and activities because - as one restuarant recently told me, "People with allergies might complain". Luckily the weather was fine and we were happy to sit outside with him anyway, but at another restuarant he wasn't even allowed to do that. Britain a nation of dog lovers? Only in folk legend it seems.
A number of dog owners we have met here tell us it is becoming increasingly difficult to find anywhere a dog is welcomed, yet we have noticed that wherever we go, many shops place a bowl and water at the door. Restuarants that allow dogs into their terrace or other outdoor seating also happily provide bowls for the dog as well. In many places though, the only option is to leave your dog in the car or van - and in the current weather conditions, that is simply NOT an option.
Here is the funny thing, most resturants we visit in Germany welcome dogs with their owners, asking only that they be controlled at all times. They are welcome on beaches, unlike the UK where they are now banned from anywhere someone can swim. In the countryside a dog can be legitimately shot on sight by a farmer who thinks it is "worrying" his sheep so one is obliged to keep them on a leash, trained or untrained. At least the Caravan Club welcomes dogs on their sites and the firm we have hired our Mobile Home from welcomes dogs in their vehicles.
So, with Harry in our company, we will continue to explore the 'wilder' places and find alternatives. You do wonder, however, what will eventually happen to dogs as pets. Increasingly they are neutered to prevent uncontrolled breeding, in some places their vocal cords are severed to silence barking. Is this 'humane'? Advocates argue that it is, I would put it on a par with child abuse. If you are taking responsibility for a pet of any sort, you have to adapt your life to accomodate certain aspects of animal behaviour. At least learn how to 'read' your dog's signals and teach him yours.
Above all learn to accept the fact that a dog, or a cat for that matter, is NOT "just an animal". They have feelings, emotions and insecurities as well. They aren't children, but they aren't stupid either. They trust us and ask very little in return, give them the respect they deserve.
It was Pythagoras who said that "humans and animals have and share souls." If you live with animals you very swiftly learn that he was right. Perhaps it is time to stop responding to the prejudices of small minorities and feeding their desire to control the lives of everyone and everything around them.
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